June 15, 2020 / 12:39 PM / a month ago

United Airlines pledges loyalty program for $5 billion loan

CHICAGO (Reuters) - United Airlines (UAL.O) said on Monday it is pledging its MileagePlus frequent flyer program for a new $5 billion loan aimed at further buffering its liquidity, even as its cash burn rate slows thanks to a steady improvement in demand.

So far, United continues to book more new tickets than cancellations for the second and third quarters but said it still expects annual demand to be down on Oct. 1, when government payroll aid for airline employees runs out.

Its shares lost 7% in early trading on the Nasdaq.

The company would have $17 billion in total liquidity on Sept. 30 if it decides to tap a $4.5 billion government loan, which it said could be backed by slots, gates and routes.

That would be enough to carry it through a potential second or third wave of COVID-19, senior executives said.

Airlines have been scrambling to raise cash and cut costs as the coronavirus pandemic hits air travel.

Chicago-based United said it only expects to fly about 25% of its normal schedule in July, when it sees ticketed passenger revenue down by 82% to 88% from a year ago, though up considerably from June.

Its cash burn could near break-even by the end of the year, similar to what rivals American Airlines (AAL.O) and Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) have forecast, depending on how demand evolves, executives said.

FILE PHOTO: A United Airlines passenger jet takes off with New York City as a backdrop, at Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey, U.S. December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

For the third quarter, United sees its daily cash burn rate slowing to about $30 million per day from roughly $40 million in the second quarter.

United said it will retain control over its $20 billion loyalty program, with over 100 million members and $5.3 billion in cash flow from sales in 2019, under the deal structured by Goldman Sachs, Barclays Bank and Morgan Stanley Senior Funding.

American Airlines has said it could use its loyalty program as collateral for a government loan.

Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis

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